By the Bais Hora'ah
Q. My brothers and I inherited our father’s house. We have a potential buyer for the house, but while one brother wants to sell immediately and divide the purchase price, the other two want to wait to find a buyer who is willing to pay more for the house, even if it means waiting several years.
How do we settle this disagreement? Does rov (majority rule) apply in this case?
A. In order to answer your question, we have to address the general rules pertaining to dissolving partnerships.
When two people want to dissolve their joint ownership of a property or object, and the discussion centers around splitting the actual property in a way that each one will continue to use his portion, the halachah is that it depends whether the item will still serve its original function after it is split. (For instance, if two partners own a field, and until now they cultivated it together and split the yield, and now one partner wants to divide the field in half so that each one owns and cultivates only his half, he can force that split only if each half would be large enough to produce a yield that is worth the investment of cultivation.) If the divided property will not be sufficient for each person to use, then one partner cannot force the other to split (Choshen Mishpat 171:1).
Furthermore, if splitting the partnership will cause the property or object to devalue by more than a fifth (20%), then some poskim say that one partner cannot force the other to split (Rema ibid. 171:5). Some say, however, that brothers who jointly inherited a property do not have this limitation and may force a split even if the property will grossly devalue as a result (Shu”t Chasam Sofer, Choshen Mishpat 12, cited in Pischei Teshuvah 171:3).
If the property cannot be physically split – such as in your case, since you and your brothers are not actually planning to live in your father’s house – the partners cannot force the sale of the property and the division of the profit, even if the majority wants to sell.
There are two alternative options, however.
One, the partner who wants out can sell his share to another partner or to an outside party.
Two, he can declare “gud oh eigud” (lit., pull, or I will pull), which means that he tells the other partner(s) that they should either buy him out, or he will buy them out. The Chazon Ish explains (Bava Basra 8:1) that Chazal reasoned that it would be unfair to lock a person into an unwanted partnership, so we allow him to extricate himself by forcing his counterpart(s) to either buy him out or allow him to buy them out.
The person who declares gud oh eigud sets the price at which he is willing to buy out his partner. He can demand as a high a price as he wants, because he is not harming his partner by doing so, since at any time the partner can say, “Buy me out at that exact price,” and he will have to comply. But he may not demand that the other partners sell at below market value if he knows that they cannot afford that amount, because that enables a wealthy partner to force a poor partner to sell at a loss if he knows that he cannot come up with the money for even the low price (Shulchan Aruch 171:6; see Business Weekly 77).
If one of the partners declared gud oh eigud, and the other party agreed to the price, each side can still back out until they made a kinyan. Furthermore, the one demanding gud oh eigud can back out of his demand and remain in the partnership, but once he has named his buyout price, he cannot unilaterally change that price (Sma 171:41).
Some say that if he decided to back down from the gud oh eigud and now he and his partners live in the property together, he can later begin a new gud oh eigud claim at a higher price (Drishah 171:32, but the Chazon Ish [Bava Basra 9:8 s.v. Sham] takes issue with this opinion). Other poskim say that even in such a case, the claimant can change the price only if the property has changed since the first valuation (Nesivos 171:15, as explained by Aruch Hashulchan 24).
[The Chazon Ish argues that every case of gud oh eigud actually turns into an internal auction between the two parties; whichever side is willing to pay a higher price to buy out the other wins.]
In your case, the brother who wants to sell cannot force his brothers to comply, but he can file a gud oh eigud claim in beis din.